Life From 12 Yards: Gyan’s miss fail to put Ghana in history books

Penalty. A term, that can ruffle the feathers of even the calmest of beings. A term, that in any walk of life, shocks and triggers signals of doom and punishment for some, and hope or satisfaction for others. Football, is no exception. Goalden Times bring you a series where we look at the more unfortunate events of missed penalties (and their aftermath??). Enjoy the ride with Subhashis Biswas.

Image Source - Daily Maverick
Image Source – Daily Maverick

Player : Asamoah Gyan, Ghana.

Opponent Goalkeeper: Fernando Muslera, Uruguay.

Match venue and date: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa, Quarter-final, World Cup, 2nd July, 2010.

In the  fourth segment of the series, we bring you the story of a missed penalty, which had far more long lasting implications than just on the result of the match. Football in Africa was about to enter among the elites in the, for the first time ever, an African nation was about to enter the semi-final of the world cup. Only that penalty needed to be converted. But, as we have portrayed so far in this series, life from 12 yards is not easy, life from 12 yards does not go according to the plan. The gap between cup and lips, however small it may seem at times, are sometimes impossible to close.

In the build-up to the dreaded moment, we actually had a fascinating football match. Football in world cup 2010 was not particularly a scintillating affair, and more so in the knockout rounds, we did not have evenly contested exciting matches. The quarter-final encounter between Uruguay and Ghana was a different affair. From the very onset of the match, it was full of attacks and counter-attacks, and close misses. Suleh Muntari gave Ghana the lead with a stunning 35 yarder just with the last shot before half-time, but Diego Forlan, who was in red-hot form during 2010 world cup and eventual golden-ball winner, equalized on the 10th minute after the break, with a curling free-kick from just outside the box.

Though the match had many more goal-bound attempts, brilliant saves and close shaves, it failed to produce any more goal in the regular 90 minutes of play. The story remained same in the added extra time, as the match was slowly headed towards penalty shoot-out. On the last minute of the extra time, Ghana had one last attack towards Uruguay goal, and after a miss-timed clearance by Fernando Muslera from a free-kick, Stephen Appiah shot the ball towards goal. Luis Suarez blocked it with his knee at the goal line, but the rebound lobbed up to Dominic Adiyiah, who headed the ball towards the goal. The Ghanaian supporters present all over the world was about to erupt in joy, when they saw a player in Uruguay goal line saved the ball with both hands. Nope, the guy who saved the ball was not goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, but it was Luis Suarez!! This time instead of using knee or other body parts, he had to use his hands to keep his country’s hope at the world cup alive. Referee could not be quicker enough to show him the red card and awarded a penalty to Ghana. With what would be the last shot of the match, Ghana could become the first ever African nation to enter the semi-finals of the world cup. How we wish that life would have been that simple.

Asamoah Gyan walked up to take the penalty. Asamoah Gyan had already scored three goals in that world cup, and had 100% conversion rate from two previous penalties, one against Serbia and another against Australia in the group stages. Against Serbia his shot was about two feet above the ground, and towards the right side of the keeper, while the keeper dove left. Against Australian keeper Mark Schwartzer , his shot was a grounder , towards the bottom left corner of the goalkeeper, and again the goalkeeper dove towards the wrong direction. He was a good penalty taker, and did not provide any clue to the keeper till the last moment. It was difficult for the keeper to guess which Gyan was going to shoot, looking at his eyes. Gyan had already scored four  international penalty goals till that time, so the whole Ghana nation along with the players were pretty much confident about their progress to the semi-final.

Asamoah Gyan had already scored three goals in that world cup, and had 100% conversion rate from two previous penalties

Fernando Muslera, the Uruguayan goalkeeper was actually no mutt with penalties. He was playing with Lazio at that time and made them Copa Italia Cup winners by saving two penalties in the penalty shoot-out at the final against Sampdoria. When Asamoah Gyan was getting ready to take the penalty, there was a lot of tension among the players, and a few players were walking inside the box to distract the player. Referee had to clear the penalty box before asking Gyan to shoot. Just before the whistle, Andres Scotti, the Uruguayan defender made a signal with his right hand towards Muslera. It was not clear what he wanted to mean, but it seemed that he suggested the ball would be above the ground, it would be a high shot. It was exactly that in the end.

Gyan did not have a long run up, maximum up to three to four steps from the spot. Muslera was still, right at the centre of the goal line. He did not give any indication towards which side he is going to dive till the last minute, which probably forced Gyan to shoot the ball almost down the middle, and above the ground. Muslera finally dove to his right, but his dive was so late that Gyan already has struck his shot by the time Muslera made the decisive move.

Now let us look at the penalty from Gyan’s point of view. Gyan could have placed it on either side of the goal, choosing placement over power. But it was a nervous moment. Any penalty is a nervous moment for the shooter, no matter how calm the player remains outside. But there is added pressure on the shooter when he knows that his shot is the last shot of the match, and can put his team in world cup semi-final. This would be the first time for Ghana in world Cup semi-final. This would be the first time for any nation from the “Dark Continent in world cup semi-final.  It is difficult to think logically in these kinds of pressure situations.

Owing to this pressure, Gyan might have decided to blast it rather than place it. He probably knew about Muslera’s reputation of saving penalties, and thus feared that may be a placement on either side of the goal may result in a save by the keeper. Thus he chose the safer option, a shot above the ground, down the middle, so that even if the goalkeeper guesses correctly and outstretches his leg, the ball will be in the net.

Source -
Source –

Gyan’s shot was above the ground, not exactly down the middle, but may be a foot towards right from the middle of the goal. Muslera dove to his right, and saw that the ball was travelling towards middle of the goal as he was falling to the ground. But the ball was six  inches higher than the liking of Gyan, and the whole Ghana nation. The placement was almost right, but the power was a bit too much. The trajectory of the ball should have been six  inches low. The ball hit the upper part of the crossbar and went out of the ground. Uruguay survived; a jubilant Suarez went inside the tunnel knowing that his “innovative” and “impromptu” action has managed to save Uruguay from going out of the world cup. Gyan was in shambles, being consoled by the team members. History would have to wait for Africa.

The match went to penalty shoot-out. Diego Forlan gave Uruguay lead but Asamoah Gyan, brave man he is, walked up to take the first spot kick for Ghana. This time he struck it towards the left upper corner of the keeper, and despite guessing the direction correctly, Muslera had no chance of saving it. Gyan did not celebrate the goal, only thinking that had he made similar decisions a few minutes ago, this penalty shoot-out would not have happened.

Fate is a cruel thing. This time John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah missed penalties in the shoot-out, both the shots being weak grounders which were saved by Muslera. The whole nation cried, the whole Africa cried. Uruguay celebrated. Ghana lost out of the world cup losing 2-4 on penalties, after the match was tied 1-1.


Goalden Times top few moments from World Cup 2014

Every World Cup brings in some unique moments. Some just fade away with time, some gets engraved in the football lovers’ memory forever. Subhashis Biswas from GT handpicks 11 best moments of World Cup 2014.

11. Guillermo Ochoa’s goalkeeping


During the second group match of the World Cup against Brazil, the world suddenly took notice of the long curly-haired head-band wearing Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. He saved a Neymar header when the ball was about to enter the goal, by flying to his right, ala Gordon Banks in 1970. He then saved a David Luiz header from point blank range in the second half, by sheer reflex. He again saved a shot from Hulk which had a goal written all over it. The ball did not enter the goal. Brazil were held to a 0-0 draw with Mexico largely due to Ochoa. Ochoa’s heroics continued in the next match against Croatia as well, and he denied Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric from scoring as Mexico won 3-1 to enter the round of 16. In that match against Netherlands, Mexico was 1-0 up against Netherlands till the 87th minute. Ochoa again saved two close range efforts from the Dutch offense line, and one of the saves were as incredible as it can get, with pure reflex denying the Dutch a sure shot goal. . Finally a Wesley Sneijder thunder and an Arjen Robben theatrics denied Mexico further progress in the World Cup, but Guillermo Ochoa, the ex-AJ Ajaccio goalkeeper, now free agent at that, had won many hearts and applauds for his performances in the World Cup. Big clubs are already lining up to get the signature of this keeper on the dotted line.

10. Flying RVP



In their first group match, Spain was up 1-0 in the match, via a controversially awarded Xabi Alonso penalty following which Diego Costa went down in the box after minimal contact. Netherlands was desperate for an equaliser. Just before the halftime, in the 44th minute, left wing back Dale Blind received a ball near the centre line, towards left side of the pitch. He quickly noticed an advancing Robin van Persie near the Spanish penalty area, with three defenders backtracking towards their goal. Blind delivered a perfect left-footed cross, which took a parabolic trajectory and was going towards the Spanish penalty area. van Persie realised he was a little behind the ball, and also realised that Iker Casillas was way off his goal line. He threw his body in front, as if he was taking off to fly, and headed the cross with his body a good 2-3 feet above the ground, in a flying position. The header exploited the gap Casillas had left behind him and the ball looped inside the Spanish goal leaving the goalkeeper hopelessly stranded. The flying picture position of Robin van Persie was symbolic as it signalled the taking off of the Dutch Wrld Cup campaign (they won the match 5-1, and eventually finished 3rd in the World Cup

9. Spain’s disastrous campaign and early exit


The signs were evident in last year’s Confederations Cup. Yet victories in the qualifying campaign forced Vincente del Bosque in denial mode. But the shortcomings of Spain finally got brutally exposed in the final round. Spain ruled the world of football for 6 six years winning everything wthat was there to be won – . 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro. They were drawn in a tough group with Netherlands, Chile and Australia, but pundits expected them to win the group. Little did they expect that an ageing midfield, ineffective defence and nonexistent forward line would be unable to put up even a fight against the Dutch and Chile. Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets can no longer execute the “tiki-taka” brand of football with perfection they used to do around three years ago. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were never on the same page when an attack came towards Spanish defence. Add the embarrassment of Iker Casillas to this. The legendary goalkeeper, winner of several accolades in his illustrious career, was literally scrambling in kneel-down position inside the penalty area for most of the time against Netherlands and Chile. He conceded seven goals in two matches (in 1-5 loss to Netherlands and 0-2 defeat against Chile), and Spain exited the World Cup just after 180 minutes of football. The future, though, is bright for Spain with a lot of young talents like Ilaramendi, Isco, Thiago Alacantara, David de Gea, waiting in the ranks. But first, the football association has to get out of their self-denial mode.

8. Tim Howard’s heroics


USA always comes up with a fighting and spirited display in the World Cup . This time around, it was no exception. They were grouped with eventual winner Germany, always dangerous Portugal, and last edition’s quarter finalists Ghana in Group G. They emerged from that group with four points, defeating Ghana 2-1, sharing spoils with Portugal 2-2, and losing to Germany 0-1. Their inspirational goalkeeper, Everton’s Tim Howard was the mainstay as the last line of defence, making some incredible saves during the group stage, especially against an attacking Portugal side and eventual champions Germany. But Tim Howard’s heroics scaled a different level in the round of 16 match against Belgium. He denied Divock Origi several times; including a fist to clear a thunderous 20-yard drive by the striker. He denied his Everton colleague Kevin Mirallas with his feet in the 76th minute. Vincent Kompany then headed in Kevin de Bruyne’s cross goalwards but Howard’s heroics again denied him. These are just glimpses of Tim Howard’s monumental performance that day. He marshalled the whole defence, and took the game to extra time, only to succumb to goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. He made an incredible total of 16 saves – an all time record for the World Cup in recorded matches (since 1966) – , many of which would have been goals with any other goalkeeper on any other day. USA bowed out losing 1-2, but Tim Howard’s performance will remain as one of the greatest performances by a goalkeeper in a World Cup match.

7. Chile fans stormed media center


Chile faced Spain in Estadio Maracana on 18th of June in their second group match, with Chile having a chance to qualify for the next round with a win and knocking Spain out of the World Cup. But chaos is an understatement to what had happened just before the match. About 100 Chilean fans, without tickets to the match, and wearing replica Chile jerseys, broke into the media center inside the Maracana stadium. The fans ran through the media center, then broke a glass door, and took out temporary doors, partitions, TV sets – whatever came their way. Some of the fans started taking photos with their mobile phones as if it was a moment to savour for life!. A group of fans were shouting slogans and flaunting posters. The part of media center was not heavily guarded, and the fans got a free passage, and almost were in the hallway which lead to the field and locker room. The chaos lasted for about 20 minutes before the security personnel cordoned the area and forced about 85 fans to sit in front of a wall. Most of these personnels were later deported from the country within 72 hours. Chilean fans accused FIFA of making the ticket price high in Chile, and selling tickets illegally. According to them, all Chileans should be allowed to enter inside the stadium during a “Chile match” !

6. Klose world record


This was his fourth World Cup. Miroslav Klose had already scored five goals each in 2002 and 2006, and four goals in 2010. He needed two more goals in 2014 edition to surpass Ronaldo as all time leading scorer in World Cups. Germany heavily relied on their midfield in this edition of the Cup, with Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil providing the attacking threat upfront. Klose, therefore, was not the main target man, according to Joaechim Loew’s plans. He was an unused substitute in the first match against Portugal, where Muller stole the limelight with a hattrick. Klose came in as substitute for Mario Goetze as Germany was trailing 1-2 to Ghana in their second group match (only time Germany trailed in the whole tournament). Within two minutes of coming in, he tapped in from close range after a corner, to equalise the score at 2-2. Having equalled the goals tally on 15 with Ronaldo,. Klose had to wait till the semifinal match-up against Brazil to score again. Germany routed Brazil 7-1 in that match. Klose scored the second goal for Germany in the 23rd minute in a 7-1 rout. Brazil’s meltdown stole all the limelight , but the silent assassin had done enough to register himself permanently in the World Cup history books.

5. Neymar’s fracture


The game between Brazil and Colombia in the round of 16 was not for the purists a clean one. Total 54 fouls were committed. Brazil started the brutality with a series of fouls on Colombian youngster James Rodriguez – and ended that match with a staggering 31 fouls — the highest in a World Cup match since they were recorded from1966 – and slowly Colombian defenders and midfielders started to return the favour . Defender Juan Zuniga was probably the most hostile of them all. He committed a foul on Hulk in the first half which should have resulted in a yellow card. But the defining moment came on the 87th minute of the match. Brazil was winning 2-1, and Colombia was in search of an equaliser. An aerial ball came towards Neymar, and Zuniga was just behind him. Before Neymar could reach the ball, Zuniga leap-frogged over Neymar’s shoulder and tried to reach the ball. In the process, Zuniga’s knee collided fiercely with Neymar’s back. Immediately the poster boy of Brazilian football fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Medical help arrived, assessed the seriousness of the injury, and stretchered him off immediately to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed that there is a fracture at the transverse process below third lumbar vertebra, which means the fracture is at the spinal cord ! Had it been a couple of inches lower, Neymar could have been paralyzed for life. The fracture did not require surgery, but needed rest and minimal movement for recovery. Neymar was out of the World Cup, and so was Brazil, a match later, against Germany in the semi-final. Neymar lying on the ground, writhing in pain, became symbolic with Brazil’s exodus from the cup of their dreams.

4. The viral image of David Luiz cheering up James


Brazil faced Colombia in the quarter final, with one James Rodriguez hogging as much limelight as Neymar Junior before the match. James Rodriguez had scored five goals in four matches prior to the QF match, with a brace against Uruguay in the round of 16 match. His dazzling runs, dribbles, quick passing, left footed volleys and intelligent positioning had impressed football lovers around the world, and a tough match was on the cards against the Brazilians. Brazil did not give him much space though,; with Fernandinho and Marcello marking him tight during the match, Rodriguez was at the receiving end of many fouls committed by Brazil. Brazil took an early lead via Thiago Silva from the corner, and David Luiz doubled the lead via a free kick in the 2nd half. Rodriguez scored his sixth goal (and would eventually win the Golden Boot) via a penalty in the dying minutes of the match, but Colombia lost 1-2 to bow out of the tournament. Colombia won many hearts through their display of attractive skilful football. James Rodriguez cried inconsolably after the match, as the dream of a budding youngster was shattered by the host nation. David Luiz then walked up to embrace Rodriguez, exchanged jerseys with him, and pointed towards him and encouraged the crowd to appreciate the efforts of this sensational young player. The image of Luiz pointing towards Rodriguez went viral across social and print media, and became a symbol of affection and sportsman spirit during the World Cup.

3. Brazil’s fan handing cup to German fan


Clovis Acosta Fernandes,the 58-year old man with the hat and moustache, as the whole world recognises him, has been to every World Cup since 1990 and many a Copa America, totalling to over 150 international matches. He travels with the Brazil team and this is his seventh World Cup, the first one at home. Clovis carried a replica trophy of the World Cup, which is almost exactly of the similar size of the original. Only difference according to him, was that his trophy was “kissed” much more times than the original. He is often known as Brazil’s 12th man.

He was in the stands at Belo Horizonte, on 8th of July during the semi-final between Brazil and Germany. He could not believe what was happening before his eyes. Germany won the match 7-1, leading 5-0 after only 30 minutes of football. The whole country was weeping, crying. Clovis was crying. Clovis hugged the trophy with tearful eyes, as if he did not want to let his dream evaporate and was instantly labelled the the Saddest Man in Brazil all over the international media. But this man has a golden heart. After the match, Clovis walked up to a lady, who was a German fan, , handed the trophy over to her, and said ”Take this trophy with you to Maracana. It is in good hands with you. Congratulations.“ His gesture won him admiration from across the world, and showed everyone that football is all about sportsman spirit and big heart.

2. Ghana cash convoy


A series of three cars, flanked by five police cars- a convoy of total of eight cars were moving along the highway entering Brasilia, where Ghana was supposed to play Portugal in their last group match. The unusualness of this incident was that- those cars were carrying more than $3 million in cash! Yes, this was probably the only instance in World Cup history where the national federation of a country had to pay that large amount in cash to its players, that too in the face of an imminent threat to boycott just before they took the field in a World Cup match. According to their star player, Kevin- Prince Boateng, the preparation for the World Cup was a shambolic one. The Ghana team had to fly economy class on a a 12-hour flight, and stay in hotel rooms where the ceilings leaked and the rooms were flooded. The players were not paid their dues, and Ghana’s football federation did not use the money they received from FIFA for World Cup preparations. Immediately Boateng and fellow senior player Sulley Muntari were suspended and sent back home by Ghana Football Fedeartion. Ghana’s president John Mahama had to intervene and the “cash convoy” arrived in Brasilia, and the players then agreed to take the field against Portugal. Social media was flooded with the images of the cash convey arriving at the hotel with armed escort and defender John Boye kissing a stack of money after it arrived by armed escort. Apparently the players wanted the money in cash as most of them did not have even bank accounts back home! Ghana lost the match 1-2 and bowed out from the tournament with only 1 point. They were the only team not to be beaten by Germany though (2-2 draw), and only team who actually led eventual winner Germany during the World Cup.

1. Suarez Biting


Italy and Uruguay – both the teams were on three points having defeated England and lost to Costa Rica ! The superior goal difference meant Italy needed a draw where Uruguay had to win the match to qualify for the next round. The match was never entertaining, as both the teams were really aggressive and frequent fouls stopped the game from gathering any momentum. . Claudio Marchisio was sent off in the 59th minute, and the Italians were fighting hard to hold off Uruguay for rest of the match. Around the 79th minute of the match, an off the ball incident left the world completely in shock. Luis Suarez had jumped on to Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, then covered his face with his palm and fell on ground. Chiellini was on the ground as well, but immediately got up, exposed his shoulder from his shirt and showed the bite mark to the referee. Suarez was sitting on the ground holding his teeth!! Referee did not punish Suarez, a bemused and shell shocked Italian team conceded from a corner through Diego Godin two minutes later, and had to go back home.

Suarez and Uruguay team tried to downplay the incident initially, but later, after criticism poured in from around the world, FIFA took the matter seriously. After investigation, FIFA handed a four-month and nine- match ban to Luis Suarez. Uruguay lost to Colombia 0-2 in the round of 16 match and bowed out of the competition.

G is for Gruelling

No Group in World Cup is easy. G has an ensemble cast with no team favorite for the 2nd spot. Goalden Times previews with Ankit Mitra.

Group G’s lineup boasts of one of the most consistent teams in World Cup history, the team of current World Player of the Year, the team with the best World Cup record from their continent, and a team which has regularly caused upsets in the competition. All the teams in the group had cleared the group stage in South Africa 2010 which speaks of their strength.



Die Mannschaft go into this year’s tournament as one of the favourites, though the very dilemma of how to play may be their undoing. They had an almost perfect qualifying record with nine wins from ten games scoring 36 goals in the process, which is the highest number of goals by any side in the European qualifying zone.

Germany, who once boasted of devastating strikers like Gerd Muller, Jurgen Klinsmann, Karl-Heinze Rummenigge and Rudi Voller among others, are right now frantically trying to decide who will lead their charge upfront. An ageing Miroslav Klose, current top goal-scorer for Germany (tied with Gerd Muller), is the only option for Löw considering that other strikers haven’t had the best of seasons lately. Mario Gomez (once considered a confirmed starter after Klose), Max Kruse were called up as probables but were not chosen. It is unfortunate that one of the more successful German strikers currently in the Bundesliga, Stefan Kiessling who would have been a logical inclusion, will not be a part of the team because of his personal issues with Löw. It brings back memories of how Stefan Effenberg was ostracized for non-footballing reasons from the German team in the late 90s and early 2000 and how that hurt them.

The midfield is where Germany’s resources are enviable. From the very experienced Bastian Schweinsteiger to the current young superstar Mario Götze, Germany has some of the best midfielders in the world at their disposal. Marco Reus is unlucky to miss out due to his last minute injury. But even then the likes of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Andre Schurrle, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Lucas Podolski, Thomas Muller can create another selection headache for Löw which many a manager would love to have. However, Germany have experimented a lot on its way to the World Cup with their midfield formation, once resorting to a striker-less formation with Götze in a false nine role. It can be said that for that reason they haven’t settled on a system and a first choice player list in this area. It may be their undoing as many of the players thrive under a different role at their club whereas they might have to play in a completely different way for the national team.

Defensively Germany is unpredictable and far from impregnable, as they were once considered. Playing a more fluid style has resulted in the defenders having to play much higher up. It’s not just the defenders who have to be comfortable on the ball, the goalkeeper too must exhibit such qualities. In Manuel Neuer, Germany arguably have the best goalkeeper in the world. However, his maverick ways make him prone to moments of madness which his coach doesn’t appreciate and hence the more pragmatic Roman Weidenfeller is on standby. Captain Philip Lahm will take his place in the usual right fullback position in which he is considered one of the best, but the central defensive pairing is an area of concern for Löw. Mats Hummels has returned after a long layoff due to injury and is yet to find the form that made him one of the hottest prospects a couple of seasons back. Per Mertesaker, in spite of his experience, may lose out to Jerome Boateng due to his obvious lack of speed, which has been exposed time and again by skillful speedy opponents. Boateng has played in the centre back role for a long time for his club – however he is still not as reliable in the role as the injured Holger Badstuber was.

Having come so close and then losing out in the last few editions have made a lot of fans pessimistic about their chances. But, Löw and his boys would love to do justice to their tag and bring home the gold.


The European ‘Seleccao’ go into the World Cup as underdogs with most pundits dismissing them as potential contenders for the crown. Their dire displays during qualifying and the fact they had to come through a play-off doesn’t excite a critic much about their chances. However, it is this very lack of pressure, sometimes mixed with underestimation that may turn out as the trump card for Portugal.

Today Portugal has been equated with Cristiano Ronaldo, and for good measure. The captain is not only the best player Portugal have, but is also the current holder of the World Player of the Year award. His influence on the game is such that at times he has single- handedly changed the morale of the team simply by his presence on the field. Cristiano leads from the front quite literally, and in all honesty he is Portugal’s only reliable option upfront. Strikers Hugo Almeida as well as Helder Postiga really haven’t shone or seemed dangerous in front of goal. Profligacy upfront has cost Portugal a lot in the qualifiers. However, in the World Cup there are no second chances so the lack of other options upfront besides their talismanic captain still is Portugal’s achilles heel.

Portugal’s midfield though less vaunted is actually full of quality. The obvious star is playmaker Joao Moutinho. Long overshadowed and underrated in the shadow of Cristiano, Joao is the actual man who conducts the team’s tempo. If Ronaldo needs to keep scoring, he has to depend on Moutinho for that final ball. Moutinho is ably backed up by the relentless veteran workhorse Raul Meireles, along with the experienced Miguel Veloso and Silvestre Varela. Young gun William Carvalho too injects that burst of excitement and youthful vigour in a very experienced midfield. Nani has had quite a few indifferent seasons. However, if he finds form, his trickery and skill with the ball will come quite handy.

Defensively Portugal have suffered due to absolutely unforgivable lapses of concentration. Pepe and Bruno Alves are a good pairing in the centre but their lack of positional awareness has cost Portugal dearly. But on their day Pepe and Alves are as solid as a rock, not considering they are also extremely good when coming forward during set pieces. Portugal have other options too like Ricardo Costa and Neto but manager Bento has generally favoured the Alves and Pepe pairing. Coentrao on the left full back position is essential for Portugal’s success. His combination with Cristiano in the left wing is Portugal’s most potent attacking option; especially, due to the fact that Portugal tend to play on the counter attack. Hence, the roles of Coentrao and Joao Pereira are vital for the team.

Portugal being vaunted as a one man show and unlikely to win, may come back to haunt their critics as they have the capability and potential to beat every team. However, being plagued by lapses of concentration and also a lot of profligacy on their own part may thwart the dreams of many Navegadore fans.


Klinsmann, who was at the helm of the German side in 2006, is in charge of the US team now and he had his critics questioning his ability after Honduras beat them 2-1 in the first match of the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF zone. But his side came back strongly and won seven of their ten games scoring 15 goals and finally winning the group four points ahead of the runners-up Costa Rica.

Klinsmann’s US side is very strong in work ethics. Klinsmann has been a tough taskmaster and he has not hesitated to take the tough calls. He shocked the world by leaving out USA’s all time favorite player and leading goal scorer Landon Donovan out of the final squad. But that might just spur the chosen ones – Julian Green (a teenage prospect), MLS veterans Chris Wondolowski and World Cup rookie Brad Davisto put in a bit more to justify the faith bestowed upon them. Klinsmann has been instrumental in building a much deeper player pool, both through persuading dual-nationals (mostly German-Americans) to play for the US national team and giving a chance to the talented players from Major League Soccer in US who didn’t get a look-in in the earlier regime.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard is aging but still efficient. His defenders have experience in Bundesliga and England. Roma’s Michael Bradley will lead the diamond shaped midfield while the upfront will see Clint Dempsey partnering with the Sunderland man Jozy Altidore who had a terrific goal scoring run in the qualifying. In the wings, Julian Green, son of an American father and German mother, who spent part of his youth career at Bayern Munich, may emerge as a hot new prospect after the tournament. After having played for the German under 16, 17 and 19 side, he has opted to play for US at the senior level.

USA had been known for sitting deep, defending with gusto and sneaking in a few points here and there with their counter-attacking. Klinsmann’s current team is more ambitious and likes to keep the ball. But still they cannot boast of the athleticism of a Ghana side, a superstar leading their pack like Portugal or a rich footballing tradition like the Germans. Whether the German World Cup winner’s side can upset the Germans and others in the group is something that we all would wait to see.



Ghana has been the best team of Africa in the last two World Cups. In 2006, the beat Czech Republic and the USA but finally got eliminated by Brazil. 2010 was even more tragic for them. They again beat USA to reach the quarter final and almost became the first African team to make it to the semifinal but a handball on the goal-line by Luis Suarez prevented Dominic Adiyiah from scoring in the last minute and Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty. Uruguay went on to win in penalty shoot-out.

Following their exploits in 2010 World Cup, they were expected to come to Brazil as the best African team ever. But sadly they have regressed following that stupendous campaign. They have faltered in the 2012 and 2013 African Cup of Nations – that too against Zambia and Burkina Faso, teams Ghana are expected to dominate. But they have shown glimpses of their strength in the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Ghana was drawn in one of the most difficult qualifying groups with the 2012 African champions Zambia, Lesotho and Sudan. They did extremely well to win five of their six games and were drawn against seven-time African champions Egypt. Winning 6-1 at home against them, the Black Stars ensured their tickets for Brazil.

The Ayew brothers are yet to ignite the big stage on fire. Wonder kid Isaac Vorsah has failed to progress as expected and finds himself missing from the Brazil boarding flight. Gyan is vying his trade in the middle-east instead of playing in a top European side. Still Gyan will definitely mean business upfront with able support from the midfield from the likes of Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari. Kevin-Prince Boateng with his all-round ability will be another threat. Gahana has very skillful wide men and one of them, the Olympique de Marseille winger Andre Ayew, may also emerge as one of the stars of the tournament. But Ghana’s fortunes will depend on the performance of versatile Juventus midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah. Asamoah can slot in effortlessly anywhere in the Ghanaian midfield playing in a 3-5-2 formation – be it a box-to-box central midfield role, anchorman, defensive left winger or the attacking lynchpin. Overall Ghana is a very strong prospect with key strength being industriousness and stamina. Their weakness is their temperament the fact that they lack experience at such a high stakes tournament and that they don’t have a player who can see the team through in dire situations. Also they could have done with a creative player in the central midfield role aka Yaya Toure of Ivory Coast or at least the experience of Nigerian John Obi Mikel. May be the return to form of Boateng may ease the burden on Asamoah and allow him to express himself more freely.



Germany and Portugal are the likely contenders to qualify from the group. However, both Ghana and USA may prove to be giant killers and cause an upset. There will be a number of crunch games in the group. The result of Portugal vs Germany will probably decide the group topper; the two teams met thrice in the last four major tournaments, with Germany keeping a 100 percent winning record. But this may be Cristiano’s last World Cup and he will be expected to be the man with a mission. Germany vs USA will be another interesting match with Klinsmann and Low in the respective dugouts.

Passing Shot:

Ghana and USA met each other in the last two versions of the tournament in the knock out stage with Ghana winning both the times. This will be the first time when they meet at the group stage. This match will also be a memorable one as it would see the Boateng brothers locking horns with each other.

A Year On: 5 African Finalists of World Cup 2010

The FIFA World Cup kicked off in Africa on June 11th, 2010 and the razzmatazz that followed was a historic one. It all started when FIFA announced South Africa as hosts of the tournament on 15May 2004, beating off competition from Morocco. While the tournament wasn’t due to kick off until some years’ time, South Africa and Africa as a whole was already reaping benefits evident in tourism boom and infrastructure improvement. Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa graced the competition as Africa’s representatives. Before the tourney began, consulting firm Grant Thornton estimated that the event will contribute at least R51.1-billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP). Sani Lulu, then head of the Nigeria Football Federation had this to say before the start of the tournament: “Nigeria, which is competing at the World Cup, plans to open an exhibition on the sidelines of the tournament to promote investment in the oil-rich nation. We wish to showcase Nigeria and its enormous potentials via a Nigeria village at the World Cup.” Such was the anticipation of the various African participants to utilize the opportunities that the first World Cup in Africa would bring. More focus would have been on South Africa, the hosts.


I can safely say Nigeria didn’t gain much from partaking in the competition. Only notable increments were the US$1 million FIFA rewarded all participating teams for preparation costs and the US$8 million given to them for exiting the competition after the group stage. The Competition only served as a podium to highlight the numerous problems of the football nation. After a dismal display by the Nigerians, they returned home to meet a bombshell as the Nigerian president was utterly disappointed. “Mr. President has directed that Nigeria will withdraw from all international football competition for the next two years to enable Nigeria to reorganise its football.” Those were the words of Ima Niboro, Jonathan’s (The Nigerian President) senior communications adviser. The decision came a day after the executive committee of the NFF met to recap the country’s performance in which they picked up a single point and finished bottom of a group also containing South Korea, Greece and Argentina. Ultimately, Jonathan was forced to lift the ban after FIFA intervened. Barely anything has improved since then. This is manifested in the FIFA rankings. Nigeria was ranked 30th in the world and 4th in Africa after the World Cup. Now they occupy the 43rd and 6th positions, both globally and in Africa respectively.


Algeria left South Africa with a point from three matches. In the eyes of some it was a complete success seeing that participation in the competition ended a 24-year absence. Players like Djamel Mesbah and Hassan Yebda earned worldwide recognition as a result. FIFA’s decision to allow players over the age of 21 who have turned out for countries in junior football, to switch loyalties if they qualify for another senior international team has really helped in revitalizing Algerian football. This has allowed many quality players with French heritage to join the Algerian squad. Though Algeria has plummeted in the FIFA rankings since participating in the 2010 World Cup moving from 33rd position to its current 46th in the world, considerable developments in their football can’t be discounted. They too have moved two places down in the continental ranking since then, moving from 5th place to 7th place. But they have had some movement in the table being Africa’s biggest movers in the rankings in the month of April this year moving up 15 places to 40th position in the world.

Cote d’Ivoire

After being placed alongside Brazil, Portugal and North Korea in the so called “Group of Death”, not much was expected from Les Éléphants. Africa’s strongest footballing nation went out of the tournament prematurely with their heads held high even though they couldn’t make it past the group stage. That did not take anything from a Cote d’Ivoire team that has been slowly ramping up its football over the years. They have since maintained momentum, establishing themselves as Africa’s best footballing nation. They have held on to the number one slot in Africa in the FIFA rankings, moving from 26th in the world to 16th so far. The country’s success in football though has done little to quell the perpetual Ivorian political crisis as the economy is still in a mess.


World Cup 2010 was Cameroon’s sixth appearance in this event – an African record. Much was expected from the highest ranked African team, but their hopes were shattered after they failed to qualify from a tough group. The Lions were the first team to be eliminated from the World Cup after a 2-1 loss to Denmark. Cameroon’s poor outing in the World Cup meant they went down 21 places in the FIFA rankings as well as to 7th position from their previous table topping position in Africa. Ongoing leadership disputes on and off the field have led to their steady downfall in recent years. They are now languishing in 8th position in Africa.


A quarter final exit in only their second appearance meant Ghana went away with prize money of US$14 million. A very young Ghanaian team made the continent proud. Rebranding of the national team and worldwide cognizance resulted in its players becoming hot property. Notable moves after the World Cup were Asamoah Gyan’s move from Rennes to Sunderland and Kevin Prince Boateng’s move from Portsmouth to Milan via Genoa. Ghana has become the proverbial honey where bees feed on. There are football clinics where children are brought together, some well-known local and international football idols and administrators to inspire the youth to greater heights. Club sides in Europe now want partnerships with local clubs or academies in Ghana. A good example is the pact between Holland’s Feyenoord and Feyenoord academy in Ghana. Such is the growth of Ghanaian football that the dictum now is “catch the next Asamoah Gyan from the cradle.” This has led to various football talent hunts in Ghana. 

A Football Clinic in Ghana

South Africa

Though the Bafana Bafana were eliminated at the group stage, hosting the World Cup had a gargantuan impact on their economy. There was amelioration of infrastructure since a lot of money was pumped into the sector prior to the World Cup. An estimated 130,000 jobs were created in the construction, hospitality and transport industry. According to Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, 309,000 tourists visited the country for the World Cup and spent over R3.6 billion (0.5 bn $) on the economy. President Jacob Zuma confirmed that the security demands of the tournament now meant the country had an additional 40,000 police officers. A monolithic rise in reputation amongst other countries of the world can’t be left out. “World Cup may be over but we’re still revelling in the profound positive effects this one event has brought to our country,” said Sthu Zungu, President, South African Tourism, North America. The tourism industry was one of the biggest gainers. According to Grant Thornton, 96% of visitors to the World Cup confirmed that they would visit South Africa again, while 92% said they would recommend it to friends and relatives. With the World Cup a total success, South Africa has made a bold statement in security to the world at a time when terrorism has become the order of the day and violence lacerating the peace of Africa nay the world.

Urban road system around Cape Town

This speaks volumes of its credentials as a peaceful nation and a friendly clime for those with business interests. The launch of latest James Bond novel in Cape Town is evidence to the increasing awareness. On a football sense, the World Cup served as a rostrum for players from the national team to showcase their skills to the world. The flourish of the South African Premier League was one that was discernible before the World Cup and now its worldwide awareness has heightened. The various stadia used during the World Cup are now being used by club sides as the domestic league is operating at the highest standards. The availability of quality facilities which is a boon to the young aspiring footballers will mean more quality players in the nation’s national pool in the long run. Kaizer Chief’s Knowledge Musona was sold for over 1 million £ to Germany’s Hoffenheim on July 28, 2011. Such transfer fee is a feature of quality leagues. The South African Premier League is not short of partnerships with European sides – Ajax Cape Town and AFC Ajax of Holland, Supersport United and Tottenham Hotspur of England are good examples. Bongani Khumalo became the first offspring of the union between Supersport United and Tottenham on October 26, 2010 when it was announced that Khumalo would be joining Tottenham Hotspur in January 2011 from partner club Supersport United after a successful trial in September, subject to a work permit for a fee of £1.5 million.

Bongani Khumalo, product of the South African Premier League

More examples of tiptop moves from the South African premier League to Europe include Bidvest Wits’ goalkeeper Darren Keet to Belgian club KV Kortrijk in June 2011 and Ajax Cape Town’s Thulani Serero to AFC Ajax. Only a vibrant league can churn out such quality players and only quality facilities like those from the World Cup can be substrate for a vibrant league. The fact that the South African Premier League is the seventh biggest earner of sponsorship revenue among football leagues worldwide has shown that South African football is refusing to look back. They have risen from 66th to 51st so far in the FIFA rankings since hosting the World Cup. Even an Olympic bid is being mooted. In a recent development, S. Africa will replace Libya as 2013 Nations Cup hosts as the latter nation has been torn apart by violence.

Tout ensemble, South Africa and Ghana were the biggest donees amassing developments in various sectors of the country including football. The other African countries that took part were far less successful as developments have been restricted. Truth is that the 2010 World Cup has gone a long way in extricating Africa from a quandary that has seen other parts of the world view it mediocrely.


Obasa Olalekan is an ardent lover of AC Milan. He can be contacted via twitter @obsylakeside